A project charter is a document that initiates a project. While some project management standards suggest specific formats and topics, real projects often use other documents in place of a project charter. These may be contracts, statements of work, memoranda of understanding, or other similar documents.
The best project charters provide the most salient details and allow the project manager and team to work out the details. And regardless of the form and format of the charter, four overarching topics are critical for inclusion to get the best project outcomes. Let's take a brief look at each.
Project objective and description. First and foremost, the project manager and team need to know what needs to be accomplished. This usually takes the form of a project objective and description. Generally, project objectives are short statements of what needs to be performed, usually in terms of scope, cost, and time. A description with more detail may accompany the project objective for clarity.
A good project objective says "what" needs to be accomplished and, unless necessary, lets the project team determine the "how." For example, a good project objective may be "Renovate a home at 123 Main Street within the next year at a cost not to exceed $500,000."
Success metrics. The second most important topic is to let the team know when they are finished and how success will be measured. Continuing our example, "Customer signs off and gives a score of at least 4.5 out of 5 on a homeowner customer satisfaction survey."
Initial roles and responsibilities. The third most important topic covers initial roles and responsibilities. This topic is an excellent place to identify both the project sponsor and the project manager. In addition, any other essential roles and responsibilities should be listed and will help kick-start the effort of stakeholder identification.
Significant constraints. Finally, the charter should list any significant constraints or other limitations. The limitations may include budget or time limits and quality or different expectations. Again, keep in mind the idea of the "iron triangle." If a project is overdetermined and all of the triple constraints are included, it may be impossible to complete it successfully.
These four critical topics will help assure project success. If you are a project manager receiving a charter lacking in any of these vital topics, be sure to discuss with the project sponsor to fill in the gaps.
Are there other topics you believe should be included? If so, let us know in the comments below!
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